Jorge Alfaro: The latest in a long line of catchers

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Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

In late November last year, A.J. Preller added Jorge Alfaro to a very long list of catchers who have come and gone during his tenure.

The Miami Marlins had supplanted Alfaro with Jacob Stallings in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates. During spring training, Alfaro was one of four catchers on the spring roster. So the Padres traded Victor Caratini and sent Luis Campusano to Triple-A El Paso to begin the season.

The Texas Rangers signed the Columbian during Preller’s tenure as a scout with the organization, so he was familiar with him. The right-hander’s main claim to fame is his power, arm strength, and control of the running game. The Padres offered the 6-3, 230-pound backstop a one-year contract worth $2.73 million. He’ll be arbitration-eligible next year and a free agent in 2024.

Alfaro debuted at the age of 23 in September 2016 and spent three years in Philadelphia and three in Miami. Last year he caught 61 games, played left field in 21 games, and first base in three games.

Since the Padres hired Preller, he’s cycled through 20 catchers:

Yasmani Grandal

Rene Rivera

Nick Hundley

Adam Moore

Derek Norris

Austin Hedges

Rocky Gale

Christian Bethancourt

Hector Sanchez

Luis Torrens

A.J. Ellis

Rafael Lopez

Francisco Mejia

Austin Allen

Victor Caratini

Austin Nola

Jason Castro

Webster Rivas

Luis Campusano

Jorge Alfaro

Acquired in 2020, Nola has appeared in just 119 games. Last year he made three trips to the IL and ended his season with a strain of his left thumb which required surgery.  Cumulatively Nola has batted .247/.322/.340/.662. But so far this year, he’s regressed to a batting line of .228/.301/.282/.582 in 149 at-bats. He’s yet to match his performance with the Seattle Mariners, where he batted .280/.351/476/.827

Last year, Alfaro batted .244/.283/.342/.625 with 15 doubles, one triple, and four home runs in 311 plate appearances for the Marlins. He’s already played more games for the Padres (34) than he did for the Marlins in 2020 (31 games), when he batted .226/.280/.344/.624).

Over his career, he’s amassed a record of.260/.309/.405/.715 91 OPS+, 3.1 WAR. So far in San Diego, El Oso (The Bear as he’s called) is raking: 0.9 WAR .283/.320/.478/.798 130 OPS+. Despite his size, the big guy has some speed and can steal a base. He’s also made some heads-up plays at the plate.

But overall, his defense has been questionable. According to FanGraphs’ DRS, over 3087 total innings, Alfaro rates -17 and -4 in San Diego over 277.2 innings. Also, he has led the National League in passed balls in 2018, 10; 2021, 13; 2022 3.

Obviously, the Padres’ offense has been anemic during most of the season, and Alfaro’s bat has been one of the only bright spots.

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However, manager Bob Melvin, a former catcher, generally places a higher value on defense. “The first part for us is catching,” Melvin told reporters in early June. So far, Nola has caught in 44 games, as Alfaro’s number has increased to 35 in the search for offense.

The Padres have deliberately pared Nola with Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove. The latter commented recently that “for guys like me and Yu that have as many weapons as we do, it makes it a lot easier when you have one guy because as you go through the season, you only get better and better with understanding what things work together and how to pair them.”

Pitcher matchups and defense play a big part in determining the catcher du jour. After a dismal two and a half months, the bats have slowly come to life. Alfaro has fared well at the plate and is batting .282 and fourth on the team, fifth in home runs at five. If the offense continues to improve, he may get less playing time as Melvin and company opt for defense behind the plate over offense.

6 thoughts on “Jorge Alfaro: The latest in a long line of catchers

  1. We certainly have not had the best of luck with catchers. If only Hedges would have learned to hit. I like how Nola handles the game and his pitchers. He just seems to be more ready than Alfaro. I understand how hard a position catcher is. It is very taxing physically. However, Jose just seems lackadaisical too often back there. With him outhitting Nola, I would think he would be upping his game hoping for more playing time.

    I am still not sold on Campusano. He has not hit when up here. We don’t need another Hedges who was all defense and minuscule hitting. I am sure he will get another opportunity up here. It would be nice if he brought his AAA bat with him.

    Catcher seems to be the one position most teams can always improve upon and the catchers often available aren’t an upgrade to what we have. Contreras is likely going to get himself a 7/140M+ contract after this, his final contractually controlled season. We’re already cashed strapped so I don’t see an upgrade coming soon.

    1. Hi Tony C,
      Preller has certainly hired and fired a multitude of catchers. Personally, I would have kept Austin Hedges for his defensive ability and superior work with pitchers (although few Padre fans will agree with me). Especially now, with the DH, his offensive futility would not be as much of an issue. The Guardians appreciate his defense and named him the starting catcher at the beginning of the season.
      Melvin will opt for defense if at all possible, but Machado’s injury complicates the situation.
      I agree that the chance of an upgrade is slim at best.
      Thanks for reading and commenting,

      1. Hi Diane,
        I was also a Hedges fan due to his outstanding defense. It’s hard to hide a .150 average on any team hoping to contend. My understanding is that Hedges was NOT well liked inside the clubhouse and that it contributed to his departure. Any information on that?

        1. Hi again Tony,
          I did tons of research on Hedges when he was in San Diego but never encountered info that he was unpopular in the clubhouse. There were rumors that Matt Kemp was not well-liked, but it turned out Derreck Norris was the most unpopular.

  2. Wow, that list reminds us of how bad Preller has been with trades/moves just in the catcher department. So far this one looks good/okay (given the bad defense).

    1. Hi there, Random Dude,
      You have to see the list to believe it. I think there’s a real value in continuity behind the plate, and the Padres have instead made constant changes. If Machado is out for any period of time, Alfaro may continue to get more playing time than he would have otherwise.
      I always appreciate your comments,

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